Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans' supposed master tactician, has a new scheme to win over the critical bloc of suburban swing voters this fall: Feign moderation.
"McConnell moves to center ahead of midterms," announced a late-June article in The Hill. An early July NBC News headline explained, "McConnell wants to win the suburbs by defusing cultural hot button issues."
Perhaps McConnell should have thought of that before he stole two Supreme Court seats, packing the court with a radical majority that is wildly out of touch with mainstream America. In fact, McConnell has often gloated about his partisan power grab on the court, calling his decision to deny President Barack Obama the chance to fill an open seat the most consequential decision of his career.
McConnell may be right, but not for the reasons he thinks. He believes he locked in decades of unilateral conservative rule by unilaterally blocking a Democratic nominee from one seat, then stealing another by jamming through a GOP nominee less than a week ahead of the 2020 presidential election. But in the wake of the high court's decision to upend 50 years of settled abortion law, the nation is already revolting against the extremism McConnell corruptly installed on the court.
Supreme Court reform must become a reality down the road, but electorally speaking, McConnell's whiplash engineering of a right-wing majority seems to have convulsed a sleeping nation awake. Indeed, McConnell's handiwork may have pushed the suburbs back toward Democrats in a year when Republicans had hoped to recapture the vital bloc they had largely pushed away during the Trump era.
A new New York Times/Siena poll found Democrats have a 1-point advantage over the Republicans in the generic ballot, 41%-40%, numbers that are bound to shift as we get closer to November. But Times data cruncher Nate Cohn noted that the poll showed college-educated voters remain in Democrats’ camp despite economic concerns.
Democrats are maintaining the loyalty of a crucial sliver of predominantly liberal and highly educated voters who disapprove of Mr. Biden’s performance but care more about debates over guns, democracy and the shrinking of abortion rights than the state of the economy. ...
The liberal backlash against conservative advances in the court appears to have helped Democrats most among white college graduates, who are relatively liberal and often insulated by their affluence from economic woes. Just 17 percent of white college-educated Biden voters said an economic issue was the most important one facing the country, less than for any other racial or educational group.
Over all, white college graduates preferred Democratic control of Congress, 57-36. Women propelled Democratic strength among the group, with white college-educated women backing Democrats, 64-30.
Compare that information to this NBC News explanation of McConnell's latest tack to the middle to woo suburban voters:
A Republican leadership aide familiar with McConnell's thinking said he wants to make the 2022 midterms a referendum on President Joe Biden, hoping that disenchantment over inflation and gas prices will power the GOP back into the majority. “Not about Trump. Not about guns. Not about abortion. But about the things that are really keeping people up at night," the source said. That means "taking your foot off the gas occasionally" from opposition if a deal is popular, without sacrificing his principles, the aide said.
In other words, McConnell suddenly softens his guns stance to vote for a bare minimum of gun reforms, he allows his caucus to vote through a bipartisan infrastructure deal, and he tries to reassure the public Senate Republicans won't have the votes to push a national abortion ban if they regain control of the chamber.
Only two problems: McConnell's supposed "moderation" is laughable in the face of the American hellscape he engineered by packing the court with unmoored extremists, and inflation/gas prices don't appear to be keeping most suburban voters up at night. In fact, those voters seem far more concerned about anti-democratic Republican extremism that is stripping Americans of voting rights and bodily autonomy while preserving the ability of mass murderers in the making to get their hands on weapons of mass carnage.
In short, “masterful” Mitch may have really screwed himself. Now he's clinging to the pipe dream of wooing back the supporters he prizes most: well-to-do voters who once saw Republicans as a party of moderation and limited government but don’t anymore.
Too bad McConnell's radicalized court gave away the game before November.
Jason Bresler, who was political director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2018 wave that saw the party retake the House joins the The Downballot podcast